Julian Mann takes issue with an advertising campaign with a misguided view of the Gospel as achieving our ambitions

It is tempting to treat the appearance of three Church of England bishops in a recruitment poster for a theological college modelled on the Gillette ‘Champions’ advertisement as a huge joke, but it is no laughing matter. Mirroring tennis player Roger Federer, footballer Thierry Henri and golfer Tiger Woods, the suffragan bishops of Lancaster, Bolton and Birkenhead, former alumni of Cranmer Hall Durham, are featured under the strap-line: ‘The Best a Minister Can Get.’

It is remotely possible that their participation in this recruitment drive by their former theological college is an expression of post-modern irony. Nevertheless, this advertisement raises serious issues about the nature of the ordained ministry and more fundamentally about the nature of the Gospel message that Christian ministers are called to proclaim.

According to one understanding of the Gospel prevalent in the Church of England, god (and I am deliberately using the small g’ here) is a beneficent universal spirit who is there to help me to realize my dreams. This gods gospel is a message of self-actualization, releasing my human potential. Ordained ministry is thus a platform on which to realize my dreams, to fulfil my potential, to get the best I/god intend for me.

Therefore, according to this understanding, if I consider that the best I/god intend for me is a bishopric, Cranmer Hall is the college for me. This is the Gospel according to the Champions.

Under the same sentence

According to another understanding also prevalent in the Church of England, God, to quote the General Confession at Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer, is the ‘Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things’ and ‘Judge of all men. I am guilty of ‘manifold sins and wickedness’ which I have ‘most grievously committed’ against his ‘divine majesty, provoking most justly [his] wrath and indignation’ against me.

My only hope of salvation is, to quote the BCP Prayer of Consecration, the ‘tender mercy’ of almighty God our heavenly Father who ‘didst give [his] only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’.

According to this understanding of the Gospel, the ordained minister sees him- or herself as under the same sentence of condemnation as the rest of mankind and therefore equally dependent on the same remedy, namely the tender mercy of God revealed in the death of Christ.

It is clear that these two understandings of the Gospel are radically different and produce two radically different understandings of ordained ministry.

The wrong message

As a Conservative Evangelical, I believe it would be difficult for me to minister in the Church of England in any role other than that of incumbent. (Notice I did not say ‘above’ that of incumbent.) Because of my biblical convictions about male headship in the family and in the Church and the fact that I would not be able in conscience to participate in the ordinations of women to the presbyterate, and indeed in their inductions as incumbents, it would be difficult for me to minister as a bishop, all the more so following the recent vote at General Synod. I believe godly bishops can do a tremendous amount of good, but I believe it would be difficult for me personally to be one. I see it as an honour, though a personally costly calling if it is done properly, to serve a local church and parish.

Apart from the irony of Cranmer Hall being named after the Reformation martyr responsible for the Prayer Book, it is ironic that in its version of the ‘Champions’, instead of holding a razor to his shoulder, the Bishop of Lancaster is holding up a cross. How can the cross be a symbol of self-fulfilment, of self-actualization, of living my dreams? That is why I do not want to be champion, but rather a go-fer for God’s good grace.